What is Literature?

Literature: that thorny old beast which, in the eye of the beholder, may settle its skirts in beautiful arrangement at our feet or high up in an ivory tower.

A literary affair is fraught with emotions. You see, many would have it that all writing is literary: all writing is composed of words. We all come to our views on words by different routes though. I am rather taken by a line attributed to James Thurber who, to paraphrase, lamented his contemporary state of written affairs with use of the word ‘obliterature’. Cyril Connolly, critic, suggested that a work of literature is likely to be read more than once (as compared to journalism, which needed just the one perusal).

What is it that the literary piece is? This is not a question that can be fully answered here. This is not a question that can be fully answered, even if given enough monkeys and their own typewriters. What we are able to draw upon though is a reading of a substantial body of work, and the thoughts of other writers. We read and we write. We develop that most elusive of concepts: style.

Martin Amis suggested that the substance of a piece cannot just have ‘style’ applied to it; style has to be embedded into the writing (though Truman Capote was scathing of Jack Kerouac’s style: he stated it not to be writing but typing).

In the end there are probably more questions than answers. However, life would be insufferably dull if it were all simply black and white. Questions provoke thinking. Thinking creates the possibility of beauty. Is all literature beautiful?

Perhaps, as Evelyn Waugh asserted, literature is simply the appropriate use of language.
Note: this article was first published at www.writersdock.com under a pen name.

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